Look past the odds

Mar 25, 2003 5:20 AM

Poker is not like other table games. Winning is not simply a matter of making the best wager or betting when the odds are favorable, although these skills matter.

Instead, the actions of other players affect the win value of each bet. Every time a player walks up to a table that has one or more unfamiliar players, understanding how a player values his hand and acts upon that value is important to the win factor for each pot involved.

A poker player must be like a pro scout: Isolate the skill level for each element of poker, identify the "truth" behind each bet, measure the threat, and figure the best method of countering that threat.

Sometimes, football players look better on paper than they do in action. That can be true of poker players as well. You may believe a player is an "action" player but in reality is quite tight.

One of the exercises Mike Caro recommends is to clock players’ actions against their showdown hands. If your hit ratio is high, then you are receiving the right messages ”” reading the players correctly.

If you are deceived at a fair rate, say 30-40 percent of the time, this player is more of a danger and represents a threat to your money.

Ideally, a player wants to know where every player is to make the right decision based upon pot odds. A tricky player forces players to make bad decisions. Sometimes tricky players are all talk; the game they talk is not the game they play.

When faced with this type of player, just ignore what they say. Other players feature a wide range of hands for each situation, making the identification process harder.

Weak players who are in many pots might fit this profile but their win factor is low and their hands-per-hour frequency is high. The dangerous players are selective about entering, tend to be aggressive, and are hard to read.

What steps could a player take to make dangerous players easier to read? Sometimes the right play has little to do with hand value.

Positional advantage exists in poker because the player to the left acts after the first player. Combine that advantage with a knowledge of players who fold when confronted and there is a proven win factor that is best illustrated with statistics.

If a player folds when raised at a high frequency, the obvious tactic is to raise that player to a high frequency. I will not bore the reader with the mathematical formula for the exact numbers. The secret is to understand that some of the showdowns a dangerous player makes are due to positional and strategic plays rather than hand quality.

A player who wishes to attack a strategic bet might choose to call with a predetermined qualifying hand or raise to further qualify the opponent’s holding. Therefore, learning to distinguish between the two is another constituent of becoming a good scout.

Once a player knows the difference between tactical bets and hand quality bets, it is not a bad idea to watch the table for players who have a high frequency of strategy bets.

The more of these players at the table, the harder the game will be to read and beat. The net effect is high variance of bankroll due to the greater number of hands that must be called down. That puts the player in the same shoes as a general manager of a football team. Make investments based upon bankroll and return potential.